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The Billion Dollar Blockbusters

Why we are living in the golden age of blockbuster behemoths...?

Much has been written about the global success of the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers: Infinity War has been in cinemas for three weeks and has already amassed a mighty $1.6 billion at the global box office. It comes hot on the heels of ten billion dollar blockbusters in three years. So what is driving these films to such lofty heights? 

Admittedly, I may have seen the latest Marvel pic somewhere in the region of six times. Not really. It’s actually eight! But surely that can’t explain the massive success it has enjoyed since debuting on April 27? At the time of writing, this superhero flick is the proud holder of the following records; biggest domestic opening weekend (£256 Million), biggest global opening weekend ($647 Million), largest grossing superhero film ($1.63 billion and counting), fifth biggest film of all time, and numerous other international records, including some in China, where it now stands at $205 million in little over a week.

While we are on the subject, China now accounts for a massive proportion of Hollywood takings. US box office returns are still fundamentally important to the success of studio tentpoles, but China has begun to flex its box office might. If we look at some of the biggest films of the last five years; Fast and the Furious 8, Jurassic World and Infinity War, all of them owe a large proportion of their success to Chinese moviegoers. Chinese cinema chains have expanded exponentially in recent years and although the market is closely regulated, Hollywood franchises have found huge audiences in the Middle Kingdom. 

Look at the previous decade. Hits include Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Spider-Man 3 and War of the Worlds. The box office performance of these films in their day was stunning; with Jack Sparrow and co. becoming only the third film in history to cross the billion-dollar mark, but they are massively behind today’s mega-hits. What did they lack? A mature Chinese market.

Now obviously, the price of a ticket has gone up as you would expect all things to. The average ticket price in the U.K. today? £8.75-£10. The average price ten years ago? £6.50-£7. Even within the last decade, the cinema has become a very expensive treat for the family, most would be happy not being set back more than £40. But we live in a time of empty screenings whilst everyone watches the latest episode of Game of Thrones on Sky or The Crown on Netflix. There is a new boy in town and he comes with a LOT of content to keep you busy. Surely this would have the opposite effect? Box office results should be waning, even in light of the massive ticket price inflation that is upon us. Overall box office receipts are hovering on level pegging, maybe slightly down on previous years, but the amount of hits reaching massive numbers at the box office is growing.

Disney, in particular, has become the king of the box office pile, with over half of the billion-dollar club belonging to them or their subsidiaries (Pixar, Lucas film, and Marvel). They are undeniably brilliant at generating such buzz for their latest property that it feels like an event that simply couldn’t be watched on a 40” TV, even if you do have Ultra HD. It needs popcorn, it needs surround needs a cinema screen. The mega-franchises, particularly Star Wars and Marvel, both have feverish fan bases that fill screenings on opening day, pent up with years of teasing and marketing. Like me, I can’t resist. I get fully sucked into the furor surrounding these event films. Take my money, Walt. I’m yours. 

Box office is by no means the sign of quality (I’m looking at you Transformers 4), but it is a strong indication of word of mouth and how the audience is responding to the film. There are casualties too. Many franchises have fallen flat on their face before reaching such heights. The Mummy (2017), Lara Croft (2018), and Wrinkle in Time all struggle to turn a profit and killed their respective franchises. But it is still undoubtedly the age of the mega-blockbuster and I, for one, find it exciting. 

Okay, was really nine times. 

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The Billion Dollar Blockbusters
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